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Aston Villa 1-2 Manchester City

There was that sinking feeling for Manchester City that comes when you feel like you have failed. The sting of defeat even on a day where they beat Aston Villa.

City were good enough to be crowned champions. They had the ability, you could also even argue that they had the results given it was goal difference that saw Chelsea pip them on the finishing line.

It could not have been much closer. This was football’s equivalent of a photo finish, but that will not offer much comfort to manager Gareth Taylor or his players. Not in the short term. They will feel they threw this away.

They have the summer to recover and will surely come again once they have digested this disappointment. They will also add to the squad, with Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema naturally a player of interest following her departure from Arsenal.

Having led the Women’s Super League for most of the season they allowed Chelsea to sneak past them as they both dipped for the line. City, who were trying to win their first WSL title since 2016, could not hold on under the pressure of the serial winners’ late-season charge.

Five years in a row Chelsea have won the league, while City have finished second in five out of the last seven. The nearly team – good but never great. Yet, it does not take long to sift through the debris of another failed title bid to recognise that City are not far away. Learn from this experience and they could be even better next time.

Gareth Taylor (pictured) will hope to take his Manchester City side one step better next season

Credit: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

There is still the core of a championship-winning team in place and this season’s near miss could be the basis for a title-winning one.

“To win 18 games in the season out of 22 and still come up short is not easy,” said Taylor, who refused to talk about the club’s interest in Miedema. “But we have, I felt we were the most consistent team in the league, but it’s very fine margins.

“We have to look at this at the launch pad for future success, take the disappointment, re-energise and come again. We have been stronger than we were last season, but we have to kick on again. I’m really proud of the players.”

City were easily the superior team against Aston Villa and at the heart of it all was Lauren Hemp, the England international who recently signed a new three-year contract that will keep her in Manchester until 2027. She created City’s first goal for Mary Fowler and scored their second. Villa could not contain her all afternoon, even when they tried to double mark her.

Hemp has shown her faith in the project and was at her direct-running, shoulder-dropping best against Villa. At the age of 23, she is already a world-class talent and a player capable of inspiring even better things from those around her than this. Hemp could have left City and looked for silverware-winning opportunities elsewhere, but she believes City are going to win things and, probably, so too should we, especially if they get their recruitment right in the summer.

“We need to improve in all areas,” added Taylor. “We have to have potentially better options from the sidelines, I think that’s really key. Recruitment is really key, I’m not going to talk about players at other clubs, but when the time is right… and we’ll continue to work with good young players who have really stepped up.”

An outstretched leg from @lauren__hemp to poke the ball into the net! 🦵#BarclaysWSL @ManCityWomen pic.twitter.com/NcHnznrjTe

— Barclays Women’s Super League (@BarclaysWSL)

May 18, 2024

The age profile of City’s squad is hugely encouraging. On the other flank to Hemp, City have another England international in Chloe Kelly and when Jamaica’s Khadija “Bunny” Shaw is free from injury, they will also have the best centre-forward in the league. Shaw scored 21 goals this season before she was forced onto the sidelines and, like Hemp, still has the peak years of her career ahead of her.

At the back, although former England captain Steph Houghton and Demi Stokes will no longer be around, City will still have the vastly experienced England defender Alex Greenwood. Taylor also has an exciting bunch of young players coming through in the form of forward Jess Park and England Under-21 midfielder, Laura Blindkilde-Brown, who was superb coming off the bench against Villa as an early replacement for Laura Coombs.

Taylor also deserves praise for showing so much faith in goalkeeper Khiara Keating, the 19-year-old who he made his first choice at the start of the season when many others questioned whether she was ready.

Will Manchester City be able to go one step further next season and win the WSL?

Credit: Copa/Getty Images

When you also throw in the Australian international pair of Alanna Kennedy and Fowler, City have all the building blocks in place for another title challenge next season. Get their recruitment right and they will be the team everyone fears.

Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Leat; Maritz, Turner, Patten, Mayling (Corsie 59); Taylor (Parker 49), Nobbs; Hanson, Dali, Lehmann, (Leon 59), Daly.

Subs not used: Gregory, Salmon, Mullett, Magill. Pachco, Tucker.

Manchester City (4-3-3): Keating; Casparij (Ouahabi 66), Greenwood, Aleixandri, Kennedy (Houghton 66); Coombs (Blindkidle-Brown 14), Hasegawa, Park; Kelly (Stokes 89), Fowler, Hemp.

Subs not used: Startup, Angeldahl, Morgan, Pritchard, Mace.

Referee: K Dowle.

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